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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Boston Red Sox

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After missing the playoffs in 2010, the Red Sox were on a mission to ensure they would be in the postseason in 2011. With Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford -- two of the offseason's highest-profile acquisitions -- leading the way, the Red Sox strolled into September with an 83-52 record and a 1.5-game lead in the American League East.

The Red Sox would win only seven more games the rest of the way, and they lost out on the wild card spot on the last day of the regular season. Instead of basking in postseason glory, the Red Sox have had to contend with an offseason of disappointment, a scandal revolving around the consumption of fried chicken and beer in the clubhouse, and a relative dearth of splashy roster moves.

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While the team has not reeled in any player of the magnitude of Gonzalez or Crawford, they have been busy in recent months nonetheless. Manager Terry Francona was let go, general manager Theo Epstein left for the Cubs, and Bobby Valentine and Ben Cherington, respectively, replaced them. Then Cherington reworked the bullpen, bringing in Andrew Bailey as the team's new closer (replacing departed free agent Jonathan Papelbon) and Mark Melancon as his set-up man. Ryan Sweeney came over from Oakland along with Bailey and will take over as the starting right fielder.

The Red Sox could be finished with their offseason roster moves, but they are far from done with setting their opening day lineup. Marco Scutaro and Jed Lowrie shared the shortstop position last season, but both have been dealt away with no clear replacement. Nick Punto, signed as a free agent in December, and Mike Aviles are the top candidates to win the job. Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz are set as the team's top three starting pitchers, but the rest of the rotation is up for grabs. Former set-up reliever Daniel Bard, veteran swingman Alfredo Aceves, offseason pick-ups Aaron Cook, Carlos Silva, Vicente Padilla and Clayton Mortensen, and perennial starter-in-waiting Andrew Miller are all in the mix to fill out the rotation's final two spots. Finally, the Red Sox may need to replace Crawford for a few weeks, as he underwent wrist surgery in January. Cody Ross was signed shortly after Crawford's surgery, and he will likely earn some starts as a fill-in.

The Yankees and Rays arguably got stronger this offseason, so with the Red Sox making few impact moves and still having question marks heading into spring training, they may face an uphill battle trying to avoid a third straight year without a playoff appearance. Should Major League Baseball move ahead with its expanded playoff format, the Red Sox may have a chance. Then again, if Crawford can bounce back from a difficult first year in Boston, or if the team can manage to solidify the rotation in the absence of departed Tim Wakefield and injured John Lackey (Tommy John surgery), they may still manage to get into the postseason, even without the help of an additional spot.

Sleeper ... Ryan Sweeney, OF

The arrival of Sweeney as the Red Sox's new starting right fielder was met with reactions ranging from yawns to outrage, but few were excited about the development. As a producer of empty batting averages around .290 in Oakland, Sweeney had done little to establish himself over the past few seasons. However, the line-drive hitting outfielder was penalized by playing his home games in Oakland, but in Fenway Park, Sweeney gets a double-hitter's nirvana as his new home park. If Sweeney was capable of producing a 30-plus doubles season in Oakland, 35 or 40 doubles would not be out of the question in Boston. He still doesn't possess enough home run power to be valuable in Rotisserie leagues, but Sweeney could be a surprise contributor in Head-to-Head formats, where he would be worth a late-round flier or waiver wire pickup.

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Injury-risk sleeper ... Clay Buchholz, SP

Coming off a 2010 campaign in which he won 17 games and compiled a 2.33 ERA, Buchholz was overrated in many quarters heading into 2011. He benefited from an ultra-low home run per flyball rate (5.8 percent) in '10, and sure enough, he gave up long balls more frequently last year. After posting a more modest ERA and missing half of the season with a stress fracture in his back, Buchholz is likely underrated this spring. By all accounts, Buchholz is healthy again, and he could post an ERA in the mid-3.00s, just as he did a year ago. With mediocre strikeout and walk rates, it would be easy to underrate the veteran of five seasons, but he consistently gets outs by inducing grounders and avoiding hard liners. While many owners may pass him over in favor of pitchers who accomplished more last year, Buchholz is still capable of producing like a No. 4 Fantasy starter, and he should be drafted accordingly.

Bust ... Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C

Saltalamacchia had shown the potential to hit for some power in the minor leagues, but prior to last season, he hadn't really delivered on it in the majors. His pace of 16 home runs in 358 at-bats was far better than any ratio he had put up previously, and particularly with a high percentage of short-distance homers, it seems unlikely that he will equal it this year. Salty's 23 doubles were also out of character, though some of those can be attributed to playing home games at Fenway Park. Still, owners should expect a downturn in Saltalamacchia's power and run-production stats this year, which would render him as a low-end option in standard mixed leagues at best.

2012 Boston Red Sox Fantasy Outlook
Projected Lineup Pos. Projected Rotation
1 Jacoby Ellsbury CF 1 Jon Lester LH
2 Dustin Pedroia 2B 2 Josh Beckett RH
3 Adrian Gonzalez 1B 3 Clay Buchholz RH
4 Kevin Youkilis 3B 4 Alfredo Aceves RH
5 David Ortiz DH 5 Daniel Bard RH
6 Carl Crawford LF Alt Aaron Cook RH
7 Jarrod Saltalamacchia C
Bullpen Breakdown
8 Ryan Sweeney RF CL Andrew Bailey RH
9 Nick Punto SS SU Mark Melancon RH
Top bench options RP Bobby Jenks RH
R Mike Aviles IF RP Franklin Morales LH
R Cody Ross OF RP Matt Albers RH
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2011 high Destination
1 Will Middlebrooks 23 3B Triple-A Triple-A
Middlebrooks hit for power in the Eastern League, which is no mean feat. He will need to prove himself in Triple-A, but a promotion to Boston could happen late in 2012.
2 Ryan Lavarnway 24 C Majors Triple-A
Lavarnway is a flyball hitter like Saltalamacchia, but long-term, he should hit with more power and for a higher average. Could steal Salty's job this year.
3 Xander Bogaerts 19 SS Class A Class A
Bogaerts has impressive power for a shortstop, though he may not stay at the position as he progresses through the minors. Still several years away.
4 Anthony Ranaudo 22 SP Class A Double-A
Ranaudo is unlikely to appear in the majors this season, but he could contend for a rotation spot in 2013. He is a worthwhile target in long-term keeper leagues.
5 Matt Barnes 21 SP DNP Class A
The Red Sox chose Barnes with the 19th pick overall in the 2011 amateur draft. The UConn product could rise quickly through the system, though Fantasy owners are unlikely to see him in Boston this year.
Best of the rest: Alex Wilson, SP; Jose Iglesias, SS; Blake Swihart, C; Bryce Brentz, OF; Brandon Jacobs, OF; Garin Cecchini, 3B; Jackie Bradley, OF; Sean Coyle, 2B; Henry Owens, SP; Brandon Workman, SP; Stolmy Pimentel, SP; Christian Vazquez, C; Kolbrin Vitek, 3B; Junichi Tazawa, RP; Lars Anderson, 1B.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Rockies' Butler feeling better, attempting long-toss Wednesday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:55 pm ET) Rockies starting pitcher Eddie Butler is feeling better Wednesday after leaving Monday's spring start with shoulder fatigue, per MLB.com. He will attempt long-toss Wednesday.

Unfortunately, Butler was informed Tuesday he is no longer in the running for the final spot in the rotation.


Cubs option Lake, Schlitter and Rosscup to Triple-A
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:48 pm ET) The Cubs optioned outfielder Junior Lake, reliever Brian Schlitter and reliever Zac Rosscup to Triple-A Iowa on Wednesday.

Astros' Vincent Velasquez throws first 'pen session of spring
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:43 pm ET) Astros pitcher Vincent Velasquez threw 30 fastballs in his first bullpen session of the spring on Wednesday, according to the Houston Chronicle. Velasquez has been behind schedule due to a lat strain he suffered last October at the Arizona Fall League. He hopes to leave extended spring training by the end of April.

Tyler Flowers credits timing, rhythm, tempo to improved spring
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:27 pm ET) White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers has seven hits over his last 16 Cactus League at-bats. When asked about his bat coming alive as of late, he said: "Just better timing, rhythm and tempo. That's the gist of it. There's no story line," per Chicago Sun-Times.

Flowers hit .214 last season for the White Sox. He is batting .233 (10 for 43) with three doubles, three homers and six RBI in 16 Cactus League games.


Cardinals' Garcia starts playing catch, aims to throw off mound soon
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:26 pm ET) Cardinals starting pitcher Jaime Garcia, who is on the 15-day disabled list with left shoulder inflammation, began playing catch Wednesday, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Garcia is aiming to start throwing off a mound next week.

Garcia added he will build up to throwing 80 pitches before he will likely begin a minor-league rehab assignment.

"We're trying to make sure the inflammation is reduced and try to get there as quick and safe as possible," said Garcia, who had thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in July to address a nerve problem affecting his shoulder. "Whatever (the medical staff) has written down, we're just going to take it one day at a time."

Garcia indicated Wednesday the plan was for him to miss the first month of the season coming off surgery.

"Originally, the plan was for me to ready by the end of April or early May," Garcia said. "But by the fact that things were going so well, we moved things ahead a little  bit."


Angels SP Jered Weaver: 'I'm ready' for Opening Day
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:59 pm ET) Angels starter Jered Weaver finished his spring training campaign on Tuesday. He allowed two runs over 6 1/3 innings of work in a minor-league game. According to the Orange County Register, Weaver shifted his focus on Opening Day at Seattle on Monday.

"I'm ready," Weaver said. "It's going to be fun to pitch under the lights again, obviously not in the first game, but it's nice to get that atmosphere back again. Get back out there and start a fresh season again. It's going to be fun."


Yankees SS Didi Gregorius (wrist) slated to play Thursday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:37 pm ET) Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius, who has been sidelined since Saturday with a wrist injury, took part in fielding drills and batting practice on Wednesday. He is expected to play in one of New York's split-squad games against Detroit and Pittsburgh on Thursday, according to the Journal News

Brad Penny scratched by White Sox due to illness
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:35 pm ET) The White Sox scratched Brad Penny in favor of Scott Carroll on Tuesday against the Mariners due to an illness, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Penny, has allowed 12 earned runs in 15 2/3 innings in Cactus League play.

Report: No progress in contract talks for Reds ace Johnny Cueto
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:34 pm ET) The Reds have not made progress in contract talks with starting pitcher Johnny Cueto, a source told FOX Sports. Cueto has expressed a desire to finalize a contract extension before Opening Day.

Cueto, who is set to make $10 million in 2015, is in the final season of a five-year, $36.2 million contract.


White Sox's Nate Jones tosses first bullpen since Tommy John
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:32 pm ET) White Sox reliever Nate Jones threw his first bullpen in nearly 12 months, according to the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday.

"I'm just excited to be out there an almost be normal," Jones said.

Jones was placed on the 60-day disabled list last week, as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery last July. He is targeting a mid-season return.


 
 
 
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